Every spring, a strange ritual takes place in Ontario.
At the end of March, the government publishes the name and salary of every provincial and municipal employee who makes more than $100,000 a year. A one-day media frenzy follows. Reporters tally up how many people are on the “Sunshine List,” and news outlets publish profiles of the top earners.
A brainchild of the Mike Harris Conservatives in 1996, the Sunshine List is, supposedly, all about government openness and transparency. What it’s really about, though, is perpetuating the myth that all public employees are overpaid “fat cats.” By shaping public attitudes about public employees’ pay, the Sunshine List makes it easier for politicians to cut jobs and wages for people who make way less than $100,000.
So I’d have to say I don’t like the Sunshine List. But I also realize that no party is likely to get rid of it.
The people of Ontario don’t want less information about government spending. They want more. And I think we should provide it.
Right now, the Sunshine List overlooks thousands of people who make a living off public dollars. Take Chris Mazza, former head of our Ornge air ambulance service. Mazza got $9.3 million over six years – all public money – but never appeared on the list. How? Simple. Mazza was paid by a private subsidiary of Ornge, and private companies aren’t covered by the current law.
Government and its agencies are being overrun by private consultants, contractors, CEOs, and financiers. They’re making big bucks from public dollars. But the public doesn’t know they exist.
Let’s fix that. Let’s put government contractors – all of them – on the Sunshine List. That would be real openness and transparency.
And I believe it would make our strange spring ritual extremely interesting.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union